Thai security forces with sniffer dogs and drones have been combing bamboo groves and cornfields along the country’s border with Myanmar for more than 48 hours, searching for two Uyghur escapees who cut iron bars to break out of an immigration detention center, authorities said Friday.
Murad Yeslicana, 41 and Rashid Ashim, 29, identified as Turkish nationals, escaped from detention center at Mae Sod immigration office before dawn on Wednesday, police said, while NGOs voiced fear they could be deported to face a grim fate in China like hundreds before them extradited by Thailand.
Police and military forces used sniffer dogs, a high-rise crane and drones to search for the men, said Police Col. Kriangsak Dangtrinoi, an officer at the Mae Sad immigrant office.
“We’ve deployed border patrol police and military to search cornfields, they are still out there somewhere without a trace,” he said Friday.
Gen. Suchart Teerasawat, the deputy national police chief who observed the search operation on Thursday, said the duo may have followed Thai roads before crossing into Myanmar.
“I believe they followed roads on the Thai side to try to find a crossing into Myanmar,” he told reporters.
He said the escapees had been transferred from Nong Khai detention center, a province bordering Laos, after they escaped but were recaptured 21 days later.
This time, Suchart said, “they used soap to get the bars rusty and easy to cut through.”
The two men are among 50 Uyghurs being held in immigration centers and prison in four locations in Thailand – remnants of a group of about 350 who fled to Thailand in 2014 to escape repression in Xinjiang.
In 2015, Thailand drew criticism when it forcibly repatriated 100 of the 350 Uyghurs detained in the country to China despite fears they could be punished on their return to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Two years after that deportation, the XUAR established a network of internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities for political indoctrination. Some of the camps have recently shifted their Uyghur inmates into forced labor,
The worrisome thing is that the Thai government may try to send the Uyghurs who are in different cells in detention centers across Thailand to China, said Chalida Tajaroensuk, director of the People’s Empowerment Foundation, a Thai NGO which has helped Uyghurs in Thailand since 2014.
“I’m afraid the Chinese authorities will urge Thailand to send the Uyghurs back to China via Laos and Cambodia,” Chalida told BenarNews on Friday.